Rewards and Challenges

Writing for Children Blog | craft
February 11, 2016


 (How Psychology Showed Me How to Push Through)

By Jan Fields

Long ago, researchers were studying how creatures react to reward. They
learned that if you put a "reward station" in a rat's cage and have a treat
appear every time the rat pushes a button, the rat will push the button a
lot at first, then taper off. Eventually, he'll push the button only when he
wants a treat and his desire for the treat seems to lessen over time. BUT if
you have the "reward station" produce a treat only sometimes, and give
nothing the rest of the time, the rat will actually push the button a lot
more often and that frequency will never taper off.

I think about that sometimes in relation to writing, because I can be a lot
like that rat. If every single creative thing I do is praised and rewarded,
I tend to get tired of that art form. I feel like it has no more challenges
for me. But if I'm never praised and rewarded, I feel like it's a bad match
for me, and I drop it for that reason. No one enjoys being a total failure.

This is why writing has never grown old or stale for me. Sometimes I write
something and sell it. Sometimes I receive feedback written in glowing
terms. But sometimes I write something and no one seems to want it; the
reward station doesn't produce a single glimmer of reward. Sometimes I send
things off and get no response at all! No reward, just a button pushed for
nothing. But I get rewards enough that I never grow tired of pushing that
button. Writing never feels like a "sure thing" or like it lacks challenge.
It always stays fresh. And it keeps me trying new things, even though that
can mean more trips to the reward station without getting a treat, because I
get enough treats to tide me over if the new challenge proves difficult.

If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!

The whole model of action/reward is one to consider as a writer, especially
a new writer. When I was fairly early in my career, I sometimes wrote things
that weren't necessarily my favorite type of writing to do. I wrote a lot
of how-to pieces, for instance. I did this because I could almost always
sell them, and I was having a much harder time selling my fiction. But the
publication experience with the how-to pieces gave me enough reward to pull
me through those dark, rejection blues.

I think this is something that can have value for any writer. If you're
getting the blues about the struggle to publish a picture book or the rough
job of finishing a novel, consider taking a small break and doing a piece
that will give you a treat at that reward station. You could write for a no
pay market or write an essay on your writing journey as you've been living
it and consider one of the online markets for it. You could offer a guest
blog post on writing to a writing site. During the tough times, these
rewards can be enormously helpful to morale.

Almost every successful writer I know has these sure reward options in their
tool pack. They write letters to the editor of the local paper. Or they have
a blog read by friends and family who always offer uplifting commentary.
There's something, some place they can go for that treat when the writing
gets tough. And almost every time I find a writer who has lost that spark of
interest in writing, it's because they either don't find that sure reward
place OR it's because they become so successful that writing feels like it
holds no more challenge (so are getting too many treats at the reward

So, take a moment to make a list of possible sure reward options for your
writing life and consider sprinkling that kind of writing into your year.
You may find the morale boost gives you the energy to take on more
challenges than ever before. Go for it!

If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!


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